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 Christmas cancelled in Iraq

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Dr.Hannani Maya
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الدولة : العراق
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عدد المساهمات : 37598
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تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
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مُساهمةموضوع: Christmas cancelled in Iraq    الخميس 23 ديسمبر 2010, 9:55 pm

Christmas cancelled in Iraq






Iraqi Christians cancelled Christmas festivities across the country today as Al Qaeda insurgents threatened more attacks on their beleaguered community.

A council representing Christian denominations across Iraq advised its followers to cancel public celebrations out of concern over new terror attacks and as a show of mourning for the victims of the church siege that killed 68 people two months ago.

Church officials in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, the southern city of Basra and in the capital confirmed they will not put up decorations or hold evening Mass and have urged worshippers to refrain from decorating their homes. Even an appearance by Santa Claus was called off.

'Nobody can ignore the threats of Al Qaeda against Iraqi Christians,' said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk.'We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak.'

Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since the Baghdad church attack in October. Days later insurgents targeted Christian homes and neighbourhoods across the capital with a series of bombs.An Al Qaeda front group that claimed responsibility for the church siege vowed at the time to carry out a reign of terror against Christians.

The Islamic State of Iraq renewed its threats in a message posted yesterday on a website frequented by Islamic extremists. The group said it wants the release of two women it claims are being held captive by Egypt's Coptic Church.Sunni Muslim extremists that make up groups such as Al Qaeda believe Christians to be non-believers aligned with Western countries such as the U.S.

Few reliable statistics exist on the number of Christians in this nation of 29 million. A recent report says Christian leaders estimate 400,000 to 600,000 remain, down from a pre-war level as high as 1.4million by some estimates.Since the deadly church siege, the UN estimates some 1,000 Christian families have fled to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq which is generally much safer.

By
Daily Mail Reporter


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Iraqi churches cancel festivities






Iraqi Christians on Wednesday called off Christmas festivities across the country as al-Qaida insurgents threatened more attacks on a beleaguered community still terrified from a bloody siege at a Baghdad church two months earlier.

Church officials in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, the southern city of Basra and in the capital confirmed they will not put up Christmas decorations or hold evening Mass and have urged worshippers to refrain from decorating their homes. Even an appearance by Santa Claus was called off.

"Nobody can ignore the threats of al-Qaida against Iraqi Christians," said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako in Kirkuk. "We cannot find a single source of joy that makes us celebrate. The situation of the Christians is bleak."

Christians across Iraq have been living in fear since a Baghdad church attack in October that left 68 people dead. Days later insurgents targeted Christian homes and neighborhoods across the capital with a series of bombs.An al-Qaida front group that claimed responsibility for the church siege vowed at the time to carry out a reign of terror against Christians.

The Islamic State of Iraq renewed its threats in a message posted late Tuesday on a website frequented by Islamic extremists. The group said it wants the release of two women it claims are being held captive by Egypt's Coptic Church.

Muslim extremists in Egypt say the church has detained the women for allegedly converting to Islam. The church denies the allegations but extremists in Iraq have latched onto the issue. The message Tuesday was addressed to Iraq's Christian community and said it was designed to "pressure" Egypt.

Sunni Muslim extremists that make up groups like al-Qaida perceive Christians to be nonbelievers aligned with Western countries such as the U.S.

Few reliable statistics exist on the number of Christians in this nation of 29 million. A recent State Department report says Christian leaders estimate 400,000 to 600,000 remain, down from a prewar level as high as 1.4 million by some estimates.

Since the deadly church siege, the U.N. estimates some 1,000 Christian families have fled to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq which is generally much safer.For those who remain, this Christmas will be a somber affair.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, Sako said church officials will not put up Christmas decorations outside the church and urged worshippers to refrain from decorating their homes.

A traditional Santa Claus appearance outside one of the city's churches has also been called off, he said. Money usually used on celebrations or gifts will instead go to help Christian refugees, he said.Ashour Binyamin, a 55-year-old Christian from Kirkuk said he and his family would not go to church on Christmas but instead would celebrate at home.

At Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation church where more than 120 parishioners were held hostage by gunmen on Oct. 31, there will be no Christmas tree and Mass on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day has been canceled. Only a modest manger display representing the birth of Jesus Christ will mark the occasion.

"We have canceled all celebrations in the church," said Father Mukhlis. "We are still in deep sorrow over the innocent victims who fell during the evil attack."

In the Karradah neighborhood, where many of the city's remaining Christians live, a number of churches were guarded by security forces Wednesday and surrounded by razor wire. Shop owners in the neighborhood said few people were buying the Christmas trees and Santa Claus toys on sale.

One Christian woman vowed to go to church on Christmas Day, despite what she described as the failure of the government to protect her small minority. But she would not be visiting any friends during the holiday season because all of them have already fled the city.

"We did not put any decorations inside or outside our house this year," said Ikhlas Bahnam. "We see no reason to celebrate."In Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Syrian Orthodox priest Faiz Wadee said there will be no public Christmas celebrations either.

Christians in Iraq's second-largest city of Basra, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad decided to cancel all celebrations as well. Saad Matti, a Christian legislator on the Basra provincial council, said the decision was made out of respect for the victims of the church siege and because of the al-Qaida threats.

"There will be only a small Mass in one church in Basra without any signs of joy or decoration and under the protection of Iraqi security forces," he said. "We are fully aware of al-Qaida threats."

Matti said Christians would also tone down their celebrations out of respect for a Shiite holiday going on at the same time. The majority of Iraqis are Shiite Muslims, especially in the south.Even among Iraqi Christians who've managed to escape the violence here, the mood was subdued.

Maher Murqous, an Iraqi Christian from Mosul who fled to neighboring Syria after being threatened by militants, said his relatives are still at risk in Iraq. Since they cannot celebrate, neither will he."We will pray for the sake of Iraq. That's all we can do," he said.

Yacoub reported from Amman, Jordan; Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Rebecca Santana in Baghdad and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010
The Associated Press.


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Labels: al-Qaeda, Christmas, Iraqi Christians, Iraqi Christians in Need, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki






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Christmas for Iraq's Qaeda-hit Christians






Faced with renewed threats by Al-Qaeda and still mourning a church massacre, Christmas for Iraq's Christian community will this year be a time of fear and cancelled celebrations rather than rejoicing.

The Council of Churches in Iraq has asked the faithful to limit Christmas celebrations "to a spiritual feast of participating in mass, for reasons of caution and sadness," said Shlimun Warduni, the Chaldean bishop of Baghdad.

A pall of gloom has descended on Iraq's badly-battered Christian community since gunmen on October 31 burst into Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad and began firing on worshippers.

Iraqi forces stormed the building to end what turned into a hostage situation and by the end of the operation 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security forces personnel lay dead.The attack was later claimed by Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq, which also threatened further attacks on Christians.Ten days later a string of attacks targeted the homes of Christians in Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 33 others.

With Christmas just two days away, our Lady of Salvation carries an air of mourning rather than festivity, and its interior remains scarred more than a month after the attack.Instead of Christmas decorations, the front of the sanctuary holds a banner picturing the two priests and the worshippers killed in the attack framing an image of a bloodied Jesus on the cross, while individual pictures of victims sit below.

"Christmas was a big feast we used to celebrate each year... with relatives and friends," said Farqad Assad, a member of the church who had come along with her husband and two young children to pray for those killed in the attack.But this year, "we can't be happy like we used to be each year," the 28-year-old doctor said."There is fear -- we can't go out and take our kids somewhere freely, while the threats against Christians are still there," she said.

"This year Christmas will be mixed with the sadness of our church losing Father Waseem and Father Thair" and the members of the congregation, said Father Mukhlas Qaraiqosh Shesha, a priest at Our Lady of Salvation."The church used to be decorated -- there used to a tree and all the trappings of celebration," he said. But "this year, we will not do any of these things in order to save ourselves" from attacks.

Yusef Mohammed, 53, who owns the Birds of Paradise flower shop in the Mansour area of Baghdad, said Christmas tree sales are far lower than in past years."We used to provide 200 to 300 trees for this occasion each year. But this year we didn't even sell 10 trees," he said.In the disputed northern oil hub of Kirkuk, threats against Christians caused Christmas celebrations to be called off.

"The Christians of Kirkuk will not celebrate the feast of Christmas this year, except for masses, which will not be held at night but at 10 am after myself and 10 other Christian personages received threats from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq," Chaldean Catholic archbishop Monsignor Louis Sarko said.

"I fear that Christians will be targeted, which is why all ceremonies have been cancelled."Celebrations in the ethnically and religiously diverse, unrest-prone north Iraq city of Mosul have also been limited to churches.

"This year, we will only hold the religious ceremony at the churches" of Mosul, said Father Kamel, a priest at a church in the city, asking not to be further identified out of fear of attack."How can a mother celebrate a feast while her son was killed by the enemies of this country; how can we have a feast while my grandsons are crying for their father?" said Mariam Daniel, 57, a housewife in the city.

"Where is the feast when I see the tears in the eyes of my daughter-in-law and her loneliness which was caused by hands covered with the blood of innocents?"Daniel's son, a 22-year-old college student who was married with two children, was killed by gunmen three months ago near her house.Celebrations in the southern city of Basra have also been called off.

"A statement from the Basra Churches Council was issued to cancel all the celebration ceremonies for Christmas," said Saad Matti, a 40-year-old Christian member of the Basra provincial council.Only prayers and mass will be held, he said, out of respect for "our martyrs who were killed in the attacks against Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad."

By
Nafa Abdul Jabbar


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Labels: Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, al-Qaeda, Baghdad, Iraqi Christians, Muslims, The BBC, The UK






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"Christmas is not for us", Iraqi Christians






Inside a church in Amman, an Iraqi choir sang Christmas hymns, but for those who attended a recent Saturday evening mass, there seemed to be more blues than a Christmas spirit.

"Christmas is only for those who can celebrate it and it is not for us," said Yousef Abdullah , a 50-year-old Iraqi refugee, standing outside an Amman church accompanied by his two daughters .Mr Abdullah, a Chaldean from the dwindling Iraqi Christian community, fled Baghdad in January, two months after his house was stormed by three masked men who ordered him to leave the country.

"It was dark and there was no electricity when I heard loud banging on the door. At first, I thought it was friends, but then three men masked in black forced their way in and started beating us with their Kalashnikovs. They pushed my wife on the floor and said, 'you Christians have no bread in this country'. You have two days to leave."After that, Mr Abdullah hid with relatives until he was able to get enough money to leave. But he remains concerned about the situation in Iraq.

"How are we going to feel the joy of Christmas? My son is in Baghdad with his wife. He called me the day before yesterday and told me he wants to flee to [the Iraqi city of] Irbil. We cannot celebrate when tragedy struck Our Lady of Salvation Church," he said of the October 31 attacks that killed 68 people. "Even children were slaughtered at the altar. Our wounds are deep."Iraqi Christians have suffered at the hands of extremist groups that have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes since 2003.

Many were killed, kidnapped or threatened while several churches were bombed and their clergy murdered. Iraqi clergy estimated there were one million Christians in Iraq before the war, but the number has dropped to 400,000. Father Raymound Moussalli, a Chaldean priest, estimates there are 40,000 Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan.

Even before the church attack, the Vatican was so concerned about the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the region that it hosted a meeting for Middle Eastern bishops in October to address the issue.But the recent attacks and al Qa'eda threats against Christians have compounded the feelings of uncertainty among Iraqi exiles this Christmas.

"Christmas is not the same anymore. How are we going to celebrate?" asked Amal Francies, a 48-year-old widow who lost her husband during the Iran-Iraq war 24 years ago. "I am worried about my two sisters in Iraq. My heart is with them."Eighteen months ago, she fled Baghdad with her two sons, and now the family lives on aid from the Chaldean church."My son was kidnapped two years ago. I sold all my furniture and paid a ransom," she said.

"Our future now is uncertain and my application at the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to be resettled in Germany was turned down. We are taking each day as it comes. We used to have our own home in Iraq and now we don't even have a heater. At night we sit watching TV wrapped in blankets."Since the Baghdad church attack, the Christian communities in Baghdad and Mosul have started a steady exodus from those cities to Kurdistan and Ninewa, according to the UNHCR.

"Some 1,000 families have arrived since the beginning of November. We have heard many accounts of people fleeing," said UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming at a press briefing on December 17 in Geneva. "Churches and NGOs are warning us to expect more people fleeing in the coming weeks. Many of the new arrivals explain that they left in fear as a result of the church attack on 31 October."In Syria, since November, about 300 people have registered with UNHCR, the majority of whom fled Iraq.

The number of registrations of Christians in Jordan in October and November has doubled from the same period last year. In September, 57 Christians were registered. The number rose to 98 and 109 in October and November respectively, Ms Fleming said.Because of the harassment, Christmas celebrations will be limited to prayers inside church in solidarity with the Iraqis who were murdered, Mr Moussalli said.

"On Christmas Eve, there is going to be a mass only and we will pray for the martyrs and for peace to prevail," he said. "Each year, the attacks against Christians are becoming worse. There is a fierce campaign against Christians and satanic plans to drive us out. We do not understand why. Is it motivated by sectarianism or prejudice against us?"But what we hope that those behind the attacks understand is that the Christians want to live in peace with their Muslim brethren in a country they share."

Suha Philip Ma'ayeh,
the National




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Plight of Iraq Christians dire






In a sombre pre-Christmas address Tuesday, the Middle East's senior Catholic cleric expressed concern about the plight of Iraqi Christians and the collapse of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Jerusalem's Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, pictured, offered his solidarity and support to Christians in Iraq after a bloody October hostage-taking at a Baghdad cathedrak that killed 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel.

"We were shocked and troubled by the massacre of Christians in Baghdad in the Church of Perpetual Help," Twal said in his Jerusalem headquarters.

"We condemn this violence. It's a pity to empty Iraq of its Christian citizens... It's a pity for us, for the Muslims themselves, for Iraq, for the Christians themselves."For the Iraqi Christians, we are with them in this bad situation," he added, noting the sharp drop in the number of Christians in Iraq from about 800,000 at the time of the US-led invasion of 2003 to about 500,000 now.

"We hope that even in Iraq, peace will be established and some of them can go back to their country, to their homes, to their churches, to their villages."Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI called for "Christ's followers" to be defended in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and warned governments not to allow "anti-religious fanaticism."

Twal also used his traditional address ahead of Christmas to lament the failure of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and called on Europe to take a more active role in pushing for a solution.

"What I ask Europe is to have a more political role in the process of peace in the Middle East," he told reporters."Europe helps us financially a lot, we ask them to be more involved if it is possible, if there is room for them, that's the question, till now they have been excluded from the process."

Israel and the Palestinians began direct peace talks on September 2 after a hiatus of nearly two years, but the negotiations ground to a halt just three weeks later with the expiry of 10 months of Israeli restrictions on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians have said they will not negotiate while Israel builds on land they want for their promised state, but Washington failed to secure a renewal of the Israeli restrictions and has now called for indirect peace talks instead.Twal said the breakdown of talks "should not lead us to despair."

"We continue to believe that on both sides, and in the international community, there are men of goodwill who will work and put their energies together in their commitment for peace," he said in his address."We believe that nothing is impossible with God."

Middle East Online


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Iraq Christians find refuge in north






Hundreds of Iraqi Christians are fleeing to the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region and particularly the town of Ankawa, which has become a safe haven for the country’s Christians, thanks to its special status and privileges granted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Ankawa, near Erbil, KRG’s capital, has a predominantly Christian population and administration, several churches and distinct Assyrian language.Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said on 17 December that UNHCR offices in Iraq had seen a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the KRG Region and Nineveh plains in the north.

Fleming said the Christian communities in the two cities had started a “slow but steady exodus" since a deadly attack on 31 October, when 68 people were killed during the storming of Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad during Sunday Mass.

Some 1,000 families have arrived in the Kurdistan region and Ninewa since the beginning of November, according to UNHCR. "We have heard many accounts of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Some were able to take only a few belongings with them," Fleming said.

“Bagdad has too many evils,” Jabir Hikmet Al Sammak, a Christian, said last week in Ankawa at the funeral of his 78-year-old father and 76-year-old mother. They had both been beheaded in their Baghdad home by extremists.“It’s a city of guns,” said Al Sammak.Al Sammak and many other Christian IDPs are now homeless and jobless, living either with their relatives or in rented houses they can hardly afford in Ankawa.

Safe havens

Many areas in the north have been safe havens for religious minorities fleeing violence elsewhere in Iraq, and Erbil is no exception, says the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

According to IOM, there are 6,879 IDP families (about 41,274 individuals) in Erbil governorate and almost a quarter are estimated to be Christians. Initial assessments by IOM staff in Iraq suggest that more Christian families will be arriving in Erbil as soon as they are able to leave their homes and jobs.

“We just came here for security,” said Naji Behnan, 57, a church security guard in Ankawa, who earns 240,000 Iraqi dinars (approximately US$200) a month, but has to pay $300 rent per month for a house in which his and his son’s families live. He came to Ankawa less than two months ago.

Behnan said the two families of six people lived on the money from selling his house and property in Baghdad’s Jadid neighbourhood.“My two sons, who are university graduates, have no jobs,” he said. “In Baghdad they were church security guards just like I am here.”IOM’s report said access to work was cited as a priority need for 83 percent of IDP families in Erbil.

These people only possess a few items, such as blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen utensils, as well as some subsistence food donated by international aid organizations, such as UNHCR, IOM and the International Churches of Christ, according to Helene Caux, UNHCR’s senior external relations officer in Erbil.There is criticism that despite pledges over the past two months, neither the Iraqi central government nor KRG has done enough to tackle the plight of Christian IDPs.

More promises

Earlier this month, Massoud Barzani, Kurdistan’s president, reiterated his promises to do whatever was possible for Christians coming to Kurdistan, saying leaving Iraq was no solution.Nawzad Hadi, Erbil’s governor, told IRIN that Barzani had created a special committee to look into the needs of displaced Christians and provide them with aid.

“Kurdistan is their home,” said Hadi. “As an ethnic minority which suffered in the past, we Kurds can feel the suffering of Christians very well.”However, a Christian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Kurdish authorities had told Kurdistan Christians that it was the duty of the Iraqi government, rather than the KRG, to aid the IDPs.

Meanwhile, Christians keep leaving Baghdad, according to the UNHCR’s Caux. “The Christian authorities say there are only 150,000 Christians left in Baghdad; one-third of them could be ready to leave,” said Caux, pointing to an increase in the migration of Christians abroad since Baghdad’s church attack.Since then, 30 percent of new Iraqi arrivals in Jordan have been Christians, and in Lebanon and Syria, 167 and 55 Iraqi Christian families respectively have approached UNHCR to be registered as refugees, said Caux.

IRIN News
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Christmas cancelled in Iraq
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